The Smell of Baseball

The prompt from the instructor was: “Write a short story that uses all five senses.
I remember reading somewhere that smell is the sense most tightly associated with memory. So, …


It was the smells that did it. Memories came flooding back. As Marge held the old leather glove and gently brushed the thick coating of dust from it, a series of memories of her clildhood as a baseball prodigy consumed her.

… Standing in center field with the glove covering her face from the eyes down, the smell of the leather coated with mink oil filling her being…

… The afternoon sun gleaming off of the slim triangular seed stems on the outfield bermuda grass…

… The sound of the bat as contact was made, not the modern day “ping” of aluminum but the sound of a “real” bat made of hickory…

… Standing by the third base line at field 1 and watching mesmerized by the display of the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound as the hitter taking batting practice in field 2 would make contact. The out of sync visual as the hitter, several hundred feet away, would be almost completely through his backswing before the crack of hickory on cowhide would pierce the air…

She shook her head, slightly off balance from the power of the memories. The old dusty attic had dust bunnies swirling around in the thin streams of sunlight reaching into the attic.

Recent memories were not so pleasant.

… “As painful as it is to hear it, I owe it to you to be blunt,” the doctor had said. “Three to six months, nine tops.” …

… The anger and sense of betrayal in her daughter’s eyes when she realized her mother had withheld that information for almost three months….

… The look of pity in the eyes of her children and grandchildren. God she hated that, hell, that was why she had waited three months….

She had come up into the attic in her ongoing effort to get her affairs in order before the end. It is amazing how many “things” you collect over 78 years of life. She was dividing the attic’s contents into six piles, one for trash, one for her daughter Ashley, one for her son Matt, another for her grandson Matt Jr., and one for her granddaughter Betsy. The final pile she thought of as “estate sale”; she didn’t care what happened to it.

She had just put the now slightly less dusty glove over her face when Betsy crawled up the ladder into the dusty attic.

“Gram, whatcha doing?”

“Oh, sorry Betsy, I was just reminiscing. Thinking about back when I was your age.”

“You were hiding your face in that baseball mitt.”

“Catcher’s have mitts, dear, this is a glove.”

What an odd combination as Betsy rolled hers eyes like only a teenager could at the same time they were breeming with pity. Marge was so tired of the damn pity. Especially from Betsy. It was no secret to the whole family that Betsy was her favorite and she was Betsy’s as well. They had always had a connection that bordered on the mystical.

“Betsy, would you please, please stop with the pity!”

“What are you talking about?”

Marge just stared at her with her head cocked a little sideways, eyebrows raised.

“I don’t pity you, I don’t.”

Marge just stared some more, waiting. Betsy finally lowered her eyes, knowing there was no pretending with Gram. “I know you hate that, but it just makes me so sad, I can’t help it.”

“Betsy, can I tell you a story about when I was your age?”

“OK.”

“When I was 15 the world was a different place, but one thing, at least, was the same. Men thought they ruled the world and if a girl challenged them it was not pretty how they responded. I challenged them in a very fundamental way. I was the best damn baseball player in Hale county.”

“That, uh, glove, is your’s?”

“Yep. I could run faster than anyone else on the team. Played centerfield. Took sinking line drives that looked like singles personally. Nothing made me happier than hearing the premature cheers of the fans die on their lips when I would dive and turn that single into an out.”

“So, I guess all the guys gave you a hard time.”

“As only baseball players can. Teenaged boys tend towards cruelty in general, but baseball is an unforgiving game. Trying to ‘get in the head’ of your opponent is just a part of the game.”

Betsy didn’t play baseball, her game was soccer and she was very, very good at it. She had insisted very young that she wanted to play in the boys league. When Marge went to watch her play, the intensity, the sheer will power she applied to the effort was amazing to behold. Betsy nodded her head knowingly at the thought of being the object of ridicule, her long strawberry blond tresses flowing like shining ribbons. One of the sunbeams made her hair glow so the strawberry tint seemed at the front of the hair, not embedded in it.

“Betsy, you know how everyone says we are connected? You probably think I don’t pick up on that since they never say it right to me, but I do. They say it for a simple reason, it’s true. We are very alike. There is a piece of me in you.”

Betsy’s eyes were shiny, gleaming like wet blue marbles. Her attention to her Gram was rapt. Marge put the glove over her mouth and nose, inhaled deeply and closed her eyes. Her voice from behind the glove was younger somehow, like Betsy was listening to a time traveler.

“There was this game that makes me think of you. It was the regionals and everyone was really up for it. In the last inning I was lead off. First pitch was at my head. Barely missed. I ate some dirt getting outa the way, could taste it in my teeth as I waited for the next pitch. The next pitch was up and away. I loved high and outside pitches. I hit that ball on a line toward right center and took off for first like a scalded cat.”

Betsy shifted, getting her legs under herself. This looked to be a long story but she didn’t mind in the least. She was mesmerized by the transformation before her as her Gram sounded like a teenager, even looked like a teenager, not a wrinkle in sight.

“I could see the ball rolling all the way to the fence in right-center as I approached first base. In my mind I was thinking I was going for a triple. I loved running those bases …”

Her voice trailed off and Betsy could picture a teenaged Gram in her mind’s eye. Lean and nimble, running like a greyhound.

“But I was so busy planning my glorious triple that I forgot to pay attention and caught the tip of my cleat on first base. Went down face first as I rounded the bag, skidding for a ways. Got at least a handful of sand in my sports bra. When I scrambled back to first the sound I heard was laughter. Laughter from the fans, laughter from the first base umpire, and most humiliating of all and loudest of all laughter from our dugout. I remember the first basemen, a nice boy named Barry, came over to console me and I told him to ignore me. The embarrassment was so intense I could literally taste it. Embarrassment tastes like bile as it turns out.”

Betsy was so engrossed in Gram’s story that she didn’t really notice the dust bunnies floating lazily between her and her Gram. Didn’t notice that they seemed to be glowing a litter brighter than could be explained by the sunbeams leaking into the attic. Didn’t notice that there appeared to be a very faint shining silvery ribbon connecting Betsy’s cheat to her Gram’s chest. Undulating with the rhythm of her beating heart.

“After everyone quit laughing I looked over at the third base coach, Coach Bill. He was the only one who believed in me. Who taught me that I needed to learn every way there is to slide. Who convinced me that I had to be able to hook slide on either side, at first I always did in on my left side. He taught me to popup slide from either side so I could adapt as the play developed. The manager of the team always made fun of me but not coach Bill. He believed in me.”

Betsy leaned towards her Gram, eyes as big as saucers. She wasn’t even certain what a popup slide was, but she could swear she could feel sand in her bra. She still did not really notice the silvery ribbon of energy connecting her to her Gram.

“I immediately noticed that coach Bill was most definitely not laughing. The thought of disappointing him made my eyes sting. We had some really complex signals for the third base coach that involved rotating keys and lots of signs but no matter the key the signal for ’steal’ was always the hand to the bill of the cap. He didn’t even bother with keys, with any other signs at all. He just stared at me intently and tugged on the bill of his capped so damned hard it stretched out.

On the first pitch to the next hitter I left skid marks in the dirt taking off for second. The catcher threw me out by at least five feet. But the second basemen caught the ball ball short of the bag so I did a hook slide on my right side, a slide I could never have done without coach Bill hounding me about perfection. The tag missed by six inches. As I stood to brush the dirt outa my hair and wished I could get that damned dirt outa my bra, I looked over at third. Coach Bill simply yanked on the bill of his cap, hard.

That damed catcher threw me out at third, too. Danny his name was, nice kid, hell of an arm on him. I didn’t want to be out so I used a trick coach Bill never taught me, he was too honest. I slid a simple straight slide on my left aide, leading with my left foot for an easy target to tag. When the third basemen reached down to tag it, I snapped my right foot into his glove and kicked the ball twenty feet away. While the third basemen and the opposing coach were screaming at the umpire about my breach of etiquette, Coach Bill leaned in close and whispered to me, ’Now you’re where you should have started’.”

By this time the dust bunnies seemed alive. The glow from the ribbon lit Betsy’s face from below like a campfire flashlight during a ghost story. She didn’t see it. She didn’t even see Gram, at least not the one from 2013. She could clearly see the one from the fifties, though.

“When the argument finally settled down and the pitcher was getting his signal, I leaned low with my hands on my knees. Coach Bill knew me, could see it coming. ’Margie’, he said, ’not a good idea’. I told him, ’Don’t try to stop me, I’m doing it.’ With the pitch I sprinted for home. Of course the ball was there waiting for me. Danny had it buried in his glove and both his hands on the ball, bracing for impact. I crossed my arms over my chest and bent slightly, threatening a huge collision. At the last second I slide flat on my back right between Danny’s legs! He was like a statue waiting for the collision, he couldn’t even react.”

The laughter that sprang from Marge’s lips wasn’t the laughter of a seventy-eight year old, it was the delightful squeal of a teenager. Betsy joined in, squealing with glee as she pictured the scene. The ribbon of dust bunnies seemed solid, seemed alive, shivering and bouncing as the two “teenagers” giggled.

Marge finally seemed to return to the present. She noticed the ribbon of energy connecting her to Betsy. She was unsurprised by that, in fact it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. She saw Betsy notice the shimmering, undulating ribbon for the first time. Betsy seemed unsurprised as well.

“Betsy, I have always felt like that moment in time helped define who I am. I could never have ended being a vice-president of a large corporation without being confident in my abilities. I knew if anyone would understand the story’s importance, it would be you. But I am also so glad for this moment, right here, right now. This is also a moment to live for.”

Betsy did not respond verbally, but she leaned forward eagerly, stretching out her hand towards the glove. She didn’t have to say ’I want it’. Marge handed it to her.

Betsy put the glove over her face and inhaled deeply. She smelled leather. She smelled mink oil. She smelled love. A large tear flowed down her cheek onto the top of the glove’s longest finger.

“Oh, Betsy, please don’t cry. I don’t think I can stand it if you start crying.”

Then Betsy said the most wonderful thing. The perfect thing. With the dust bunnies throbbing and shining, her muffled voice came from behind the glove. “Don’t try to stop me, I’m doing it.”

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